Hill Voice, 6 May 2020, Rangamati: In April last year, a new army camp was set up by forcibly occupying a portion of land of the Sijokmukh Buddhist Bihar (Temple) under Sarbotali Union of Baghaichhari Upazila in Rangamati District. Since its inception, members of the army camp have been accused of obstructing various religious activities in the temple, as well as searching houses, threatening and harassing people on various pretexts in the surrounding Jumma localities.
According to the local sources, on May 5, 2020 at around 10:00 pm, a group of army personnel led by Warrant Officer Md. Shahadat has surrounded the house of Kirti Ranjan Chakma alias Bhutto Lal (40) son of Panchaban Chakma. As Kirti Ranjan Chakma was not found at home, the army interrogated his wife in a humiliating manner and made various threats.
The army also surrounded the house of Priti Chakma (38) so of Sneha Kumar Chakma of the same village. As there was no one at home, the army went to the locals and inquired about him. Priti Chakma’s father is a member of the Bangladesh Police Force.
Locals said that on April 26, 2020, a group of army personnel led by Warrant Officer Md. Shahadat surrounded the house of Jupiter Chakma alias Bappi (35), son of Bimalax Chakma, a resident of Dakshin Sijok village of the same union, and searched his house.
The army harassed the people of the house by asking various questions and threatened to face Jupiter Chakma severe consequences if he did not appear before them. Jupiter Chakma alias Bappi is a member of Jana Samhati Samiti.
According to a local public representative, the Sijokmukh Buddhist Temple was established in 1961. On April 25, 2019, a group of army personnel led by a Major of the Durbedya 21 Bir Maini Army Zone under the Khagrachhari Army Region of the Bangladesh Army came to the Sijokmukh Buddhist Temple. On the same day, the new army camp was set up in the land owned by the Buddhist Temple by force and in violation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Accord of 1997.
Local sources said that the place where the camp was set up was the site where the funeral of the late Monk was performed. After the death of Ven. Abhayatishya Mahathero, the head of the Sijokmukh Buddhist Temple and the Sangharaja (head) of the Parbatya Bhikkhu Sangha, the Bihar authorities and the people of the area tried to hold a three-day funeral at that site on December 10-12, 2019. But the camp authority did not allow to perform it.
As a result, local people were forced to perform the funeral rites of the late monk Abhayatishya Mahathero on the banks of the Sijok river. From the very beginning, the army members of the camp have been obstructing the various religious activities in that Bihar in various ways.
It is also learnt that after the camp was set up, the army obstructed the monks and devotees from going to Bihar to offer prayers. Monks were also forbidden to worship. Most of the time the soldiers enter the temple wearing shoes. During the worship, the army patrols all around. When men went to the Bihar, they were unnecessarily interrogated and harassed.
In particular, the woman devotees hesitate to go to the Temple. However, the harassment and interrogation of the villagers eased a bit when these issues were raised with Dipankar Talukdar, an MP from the 299 Parbatya Rangamati constituency.
Despite this, house searches, harassment, arrests, beatings, etc. on local Jumma villagers by the army of the camp never stopped. Since the camp was set up, army have been conducting regular searches of villagers’ homes in the area. In 2019, based on the report of this camp, the trawler carrying the bride and groom party was detained by the Durchhari army camp for almost the whole day.
Not only that, in 2019, Tridip Chakma, a member of Ward No. 3 of Sarbotli Union, Rangadhan Chakma, a potter of New Forest BGB camp and Jagadish Chakma of Mahishpajya village were arrested and sent to jail by the army of this camp.
A public representative, who did not want to be named, said the matter of setting up the camp on the land of the Buddhist temple was raised with the zone commander of the Maini army zone and a request was made to relocate it from there.
After raising it, the said public representative was threatened that the government has the rights to set up camps anywhere if needed, even if hundreds of people face troubles. If necessary, the government can set up camp in the homestead of the said public representative. The zone commander threatened the public representative by saying that in the ongoing delicate situation, no one would be spared.
As a result, though the local people took plan to raise the issue of setting up the camp on the land of the Buddhist temple to the local administration, Rangamati Hill District Council, CHT Regional Council and the CHT Accord Implementation Committee, but no one dared to do so for fearing of military repression.
The incumbent ruling party local MP, Chairman of Rangamati Hill District Council and Deputy Commissioner of Rangamati district are pretending not to see the matter, a local villager alleged.